“Everything is connected.” This phrase of Pope Francis could be the link that ties the whole of “Laudato Si” together and also communicates the core of his message. “Everything is connected,” he says, in such a way that as humans and the earth are a part of the same ecological fabric, our actions in one part of the ecosystem (nature) and another (human relationships, politics, the economy, etc) mutually affect each other. We can understand this is an traditional ecological sense with the interdependence of different living organisms and the interaction with their habitat, the greater biosphere, etc, and Pope Francis describes this early on in the encyclical (see Chapter 1 and 4). Yet Pope Francis takes this understanding to the next organic step in upholding an “integral ecology” that is born of a correct anthropology – this integral ecology therefore not only includes how bees and flowers interact, and how humans interact with the bees and flowers, but how we humans relate to one another. “We only have one heart,” he says, “and the same wretchedness which lead us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people.” And conversely, “when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one.” (P.92)1
Where does this true anthropology come from, that leads to an integral ecology? It comes from understanding the order written into all of creation, including the heart of every human being: an order that begins and ends with the loving Father who is God. “Jesus took up the biblical faith in God the Creator, emphasizing a fundamental truth: God is Father (cf Mt 11:25). In talking with his disciples, Jesus would invite them to recognize the paternal relationship God has with all his creatures. With moving tenderness he would remind them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes.” (P.96). Christ revealed God as the loving Father who cares for all of creation and each soul with fatherly love and care, leading everything towards the fullness of His love.
Flowing from the fatherly love and our relationship to God as Father, we also understand our relationship to creation, to each other and with ourselves as one of fraternity and care, not exploitation and domination. In regards to creation, Pope Francis illustrates in detail how “Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute dominion over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic.” From this we see we are called to caretakers and keepers, which “implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature.” (P. 67) He concludes this thought with the unequivocal statement that “Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” (P. 68).
Due to this mutual responsibility and relationship, if we become disconnected from the truths written into creation, that disconnect will manifest in other relationships too: “Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” (117)
In regards to the relationship to ourselves which flows from the revealed truth of God as a loving Father in Whom “everything is connected,” Pope Francis also highlights the invalidity of “philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world.” He acknowledges that such “unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel” (P 98). I’d like to expand on this thought, since it often goes under the radar. I think we can see remnants of this dualism in our US Christian culture today in many ways, wherein the body is devalued, ignored or feared with its powerful drives, and hyper-intellectualism that denies the body’s part in sanctification is emphasized. The extreme opposite might be seen in total materialism, where only the body is emphasized, and the spirit is either trivialized and belittled as superstitious, or watered-down along the purely natural lines of “spiritual fulfillment = emotional happiness.”
Both are misinterpretations of our true anthropology, which is always connected to and flowing from the theology of God as Father, revealed through the incarnate Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God. In Christ, our corporal reality is sanctified and brought up into God, and more over, must be a part of that process of sanctification. Fr J. Kentenich uses this quote to illustrate: “Grace does not destroy nature, it elevates and perfects it.” (2) Or another way, “The most supernatural person must be the most natural,” and also, “Holiness must be synonymous with genuine, spontaneous and ennobled humanity” (2). This view of the human person as an integrated whole wherein the body bows to the spirit, which bows before the heart, is the inner reflection of an integral ecology wherein humans live in harmony with nature as good shepherds of creation and in harmony with others in fraternal love. This is the Pascal Mystery, the harmonious relationship between then natural and supernatural. Thus, Pope Francis concludes this section by emphasizing how the earthly, incarnate Christ is at once the Lord, a Person of the Trinity, and also that “the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ.” (P. 99).
In regards to our relationships to each other, we already saw how an interior knowledge in the heart of God as Father and the connectedness of everything should lead us to deep fraternal love:
Nor must the critique of a misguided anthropocentrism underestimate the importance of interpersonal relations. If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships. Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others. Our openness to others, each of whom is a “thou” capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (P 119).
Seen in this interconnected way, can we help but see that our ecological crisis is at once also a crisis of human relationships? Pope Francis speaks again and again on the “throwaway” culture. Just as we constantly throw away paper goods and cheaply made products (rather than reusing, recycling, and investing in long-lasting, quality products), so too do we throw away relationships. Fr. J Kentenich observes this: “Our times see no sense in human bonding. We could also say in our times that people flee from bonding, they try to escape all human bonds and want nothing to do with them…when we talk about human bonds, we mean inner bonds” (3). He goes on to talk about how this flight from vows is reflected in the religious vows of consecrated people and also the marriage vow. It is this very bonding that needs healing – our times need a total renewal of human relationships. “I think I may say that the organism of bonding will be the characteristic we will have to hold on to for centuries if we are to understand and heal the present and coming times,” says Fr Kentenich, illustrating then the characteristics of the mass-minded person who has cut all natural and supernatural ties, and is primed to be swept up into collectivism (he spoke of the “Bolshevistic person”) (4).
Our present times sees much of this collectivistic behavior in the crowd mentality surfacing in issues of racism, in many subtle ways in the political rants of ideologues and those who follow them without thinking, and in a general way in our relationship to fast-paced media, social media and entertainment that constantly drowns out our inner life if we allow it. “The contrasting picture [to the Bolshevistic person] is that of the community oriented person who radically accepts all God-willed bonds out of inner conviction.” (4) If we radically embrace and accept relationships within the discerned will of God for our lives, we will not make them one day and throw them out a few years later. And if the relationship is truly born out of mutual inner conviction, the vows can be reborn from inner freedom – that is, our vows, promises, and our plain “yes” or “no” to one another are rooted in deep inner conviction, allowing us at once to stay committed to the exterior bond, like marriage vows, almost to the extent that the vow becomes superfluous. This type of enduring bond is the rich soil of true Christian love: “To love correctly means to love spontaneously, to love naturally, and to love supernaturally.” (5).
This may all seem like a monumental task. And it is. I see Pope Francis’ encyclical as pointing to a total renewal of our society, of the whole of human ecology. But even as this task seems insurmountable, we can remember the motto, “Think Global, Act Local.” With this global renewal, so the speak, as our horizon, we are invited to make local actions each day in our life. For really what Pope Francis proposes is the taking up of a new “life style:”
Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us. (P. 205, Towards a New Lifestyle)
It all comes down, as it always does, to the daily decisions we make as individuals and as a community, each and every day. The most powerful tool we are each granted is our free will, with which we may respond to our Father’s daily invitations of renewal with the generosity of love. ACNM has several different blogs (here and here for a few) that may help jump start your ideas towards how to connect daily with this experience. Pope Francis also emphasizes the role of education and interior conversion (P 216 & 217). After all, while we enjoy our God-given free will each morning when we wake, changing habits and learning new ways of thinking takes real spiritual effort and an openness forged of love. He also further emphasizes the community aspect of this conversion – it is not enough for me to change alone, but rather the state of the world today calls out for the conversion of whole communities.
Pope Francis draws all of this once again back to the organic principle that “everything is connected” as he illustrates how all of creation is a reflection of the Trinity:
The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity. (P240)
To end, I will echo the end of the encyclical, which turns to Mary, Queen of Creation. After all, she is the supreme God-given example of perfect harmony between nature and super-nature, between God and man, and also of the most perfect love of others in holy community. And she is incredibly, totally and personally interested in each one of us! It is through her that we may understand and also find ourselves able to walk that path of loving conversion towards an integrated life of deep relationship with ourselves, with each other, with God, and in turn with all of creation.
Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom. (P 241)
- “P” refers to paragraph and not page.
- Free and Wholly Human. Fr Joseph Kentenich. p. 190.
- Free and Wholly Human. Fr Joseph Kentenich. p.54
- Free and Wholly Human. Fr Joseph Kentenichp. 64
- Free and Wholly Human. Fr Joseph KentenichP. 198.